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Tonight we read homily 44 of St. Isaac the Syrian on Stillness. Isaac speaks of the value of stillness and the unwillingness an anchorite should have to sacrifice it. No dishonor or honor should lead a monk away from the silence. No natural bond or act of charity should tempt the one called by God to it to free himself from the charge. God alone can ask for such absolute love and commitment. The monk embraces the solitude not for himself or because of any whim or natural inclination but rather to obey God’s call him to serve the church in such a fashion.  He does not despise association with men but rather loves stillness because God set it before him as the path to salvation. 
 
Such a writing calls us all to reflect upon our lives and the depth of our commitment to God. It confronts us with the gospel and it’s truth in an unvarnished fashion. It is nothing less than unsettling and one must listen with faith. If we do not find it disturbing, then we have to ask ourselves if we have ever heard the gospel in its fullness. In whatever vocation we find ourselves, God wants our hearts completely and absolute fidelity.
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We began Homily 40 and it has proven like so many before it to be challenging and beautiful. St. Issac captures not only the foundational and essential elements of the spiritual life but presents us with an ever so honest presentation of the consequences of negligence. St. Isaac teaches us that stability of place fosters a kind of internal stability and stillness of mind. To leave the stillness and the watchfulness it affords opens our imagination and memories back up to the passions that had been once healed. 
 
Fasting humbles the mind and body to make them more docile and placid to the workings of grace. Fasting involves the whole self in the spiritual life in order that life itself can become Liturgy - that is worship of God. To let go of perpetual fasting is to make ourselves swine - our belly and passions become insatiable and we begin to consume what is unfit for human being created in the imagine and likeness of God. The unconscious bears witness to this as fantasies emerge in dreams and the body responds by emitting the concrete manifestation of those fantasies enacted. 
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St Isaac led us through a wonderful study of the methods the devil uses to war against those who seek to live for God and walk by the narrow way. 
 
The devil will wait patiently for some who begin the spiritual life zealously; not because he fears them but rather because he holds them in contempt. He waits until their zeal cools and they grow lax and overconfident. He allows them to dig their own pit of perdition for their souls through wandering thoughts. 
 
With the courageous and strong, the devil seeks to drive a wedge between them and their guardian angel. Craftily the devil convinces them that their victories come through their own strength and force. The devil imitates the guardian angel and convinces them to follow dreams as if true in order to lead them astray. 
 
Finally the devil will actively present the warrior with fantasies masking the truth and thus deluding their mind. He leads them to ponder shameful thoughts. He will even present them with actual physical temptations once thought to be overcome. 
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We returned to homily 37 tonight where St Isaac instructs us on the meaning and value of tears. They both cleanse us from our sins and are an expression of our compunction. Furthermore they anoint us and transform our countenance as we enter into greater intimacy with God and are transformed by his Grace. 
 
Life transformed by God’s grace through such tears manifests to the world the resurrection that we experience now in Christ. We are to cast off the old man and live as those who seek Christ alone. Essential to this is fostering a life of stillness where we can mortify the senses in order to be more attentive to God. 
 
To one whose conscience is clear and pure God will often provide visions or revelations. Sometimes he offers these simply to console one struggling in the spiritual life, in particular those living in the desert as anchorites. Having stripped themselves of all earthly consolation, God in his providence supports and nourishes them by manifesting to them the truth through these two means. 
 
Discussion ensued regarding the experience of those in the world. While perhaps not experiencing the visions that are intrinsic to the solitary life, we are still called to foster stillness and seek intimacy with God as does the monk. To live our lives seeking God in all we do and having our lives shaped by this reality.
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We continued this evening with our reading of St. Isaac’s 37th Homily and his discussion of the essential practices of fasting and vigil that are the foundation of the spiritual life. Through this fasting we begin to experience the “warmth” of our hunger for God and the unshakable peace of prayer. It is also here that we move toward stillness of the thoughts and the passions and so are prepared for the purification of heart that God alone brings about. 
 
Isaac also emphasizes the importance of solitude in achieving and maintaining this purity of heart. We can’t throw ourselves into the chaos and disorder of the world and expect to thrive. Rather we must guard our hearts vigilantly. 
 
Discussion ensued about Isaac’s thought that this is the true mode of freedom and that we should choose fidelity to God’s law and the salvation it promises over the law of the world which is rooted in the flesh. Life in this world is brief and we must be mindful of the dust to which we shall return and the judgement we shall undergo. 
 
Final thoughts centered on the state of cultural collapse in the West and the reduction of Christianity for many to a Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. It is a similitude of faith but not life in Christ or the deification that we are called to by grace.
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We picked up this evening with Homilies 36 and 37. Once again Isaac speaks to us of the importance of the Ascetical life and how it is the foundation of our sanctification. The ordering of the passions through tears, prayer and solitude are key as is humility. What Isaac seeks most of all in these Homilies though is to open our eyes to the wonder of God’s love and His desire to draw us into His life. Isaac wants us to see how this love permeates all things and in seeing it he wants to stir our desire for God. This Life and Love are greater than all things worldly and so we should freely and without fear be willing to sacrifice all for it.

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Tonight’s discussion of Homily 24 and the first part of Homily 25 had a simple beauty about it.  St. Isaac was succinct in expressing his thoughts but captured the essence, first, of the nature of Divine Providence and God’s action in the events of our lives. God is a Pilot who can take unexpected occurrences and shape them for us as spiritual incentive, as purifying trials, as training in virtue, and for clarifying the consequences of both good and evil. 
 
When one lives a life of virtue and purity and couples it with repentant prayer, the character of those occurrences change - they strengthen and make steadfast the good man. 
 
All of this teaches us not to cling to the things of the world (that passes away so quickly) or to seek the esteem of men. We learn through these occurrences to shun vainglory and cherish humility. 
 
In Homily 25 Isaac likewise beautifully shows us the value of guarding one’s time of silence while also fostering freedom to respond as fully as possible to God’s call to deeper intimacy and solitude. We must always protect that space and freedom for each other - we must always assist others in the pursuit of God and their desire for intimacy with Him.
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With the concluding section of Homily 23, we reach the apex of St. Isaac’s thought on what he describes as pure prayer and what is “beyond prayer”. Prayer always involves the movement toward God, seeking him out and desiring Him, offering up supplication and pleas for his mercy. Pure prayer takes places when the law of God is embraced and fulfilled and when no thought or distraction commingles within the soul completely directed toward God. 
 
Prayer always acts as the seed planted and what is beyond prayer, divine vision, is the harvesting of the sheaves. Theoria, knowledge, or noetic vision is an operation of the Spirit who guides the soul. Our senses and their operations become superfluous and the soul becomes like unto the Godhead by an incomprehensible union and is illumined by a ray of sublime Light. The understanding gazes in ecstasy at incomprehensible things that lie beyond this mortal world. This is the “unknowing” that has been called higher than knowledge; a walking in the darkness of faith where one comes to know God as He is in Himself. 
 
Discussion also ensued regarding the struggles of the Western mind to grasp the spiritual tradition of the Eastern Fathers; the moralizing and legalizing of the spiritual life and virtue versus deification. 
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Homily 22 and 23 bring us to the denouement of the preceding Homilies. The pursuit of stillness and the purification of the faculties of the soul prepare the soul to be raised to the state of Theoria - to experience God not in light of his operations but in accord with the nature of his being. It is silence in all things and beyond articulation. St. Isaac ultimately describes it as a state beyond and above prayer. One enters by grace into the treasury. Every human device becomes still because inadequate and one simply tarries long, for the Master of the House has come - the Bridegroom has arrived. 

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In the final pages of Homily 21, St. Isaac labors vigorously to help us understand that aim and end of the solitary life and one focused on stillness. The call to such a life is rare but it acts as a icon for the Church of “choosing the better part”; of a life that seeks what endures unto eternity. It presents us with a vision of the wonder and mystery that we are destined to share in all of its fullness in God. The solitary keeps his eyes focused upon Christ alone - forsaking even the admonition of the Gospel to love and serve others, as those in the world do, but instead pursuing the purity of heart and prayer that prepares the soul for theoria. Eventually all things are consummated in Christ, and all virtue and works of love are perfected and completed in God.  
 
The stillness of the solitary is silence to all things - to remain in the silence that allows God to speak a word equal to Himself - to walk in the darkness of faith that allows a soul to encounter God as He is in Himself. 
 
Do we desire God above all things?  Do we seek to make his love the measure of our life?  Do we make eternity the aim and goal that we pursue whatever our station and vocation may be?
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